A top requirement of mine, during the planning phase of my recent Iceland adventure, was to set foot in the Arctic Circle. Luckily, my parents, whom I was travelling with, accommodated my request without too much convincing and my wish became a reality.
The only inhabited territory of Iceland within the Arctic Circle is a very small island called Grímsey. It’s about 40km north of the mainland and is only 5.3 square kms in size. Grímsey can be reached by either ferry or air, originating from Akureyi. The ferry takes about 3 hours and, from what I understand, can be a very unsettling journey. Alternatively, the plane takes 30 minutes and is about the easiest flight you’ll ever take…
We arrived at the Akureyi airport about 40 minutes prior to our scheduled flight. We walked up to the ticket counter where we were asked our names. The Norlandair representative handed us 3 printed receipts as boarding passes, without ever asking for identification. We went and sat in the gate as we waited to board the plane. There was no security at all – no show removal, no liquids restrictions, no metal detectors, nothing.
The flight was delayed slightly, due to weather, but eventually we were called to board. We walked through a door, onto the tarmac, without displaying any ID nor boarding passes. We climbed the ladder to a Twin Otter 19-passenger plane and sat wherever we pleased. The plane was tiny that there were no overhead compartments. Instead, bags were placed on your lap or set on an otherwise empty seat.
There was no door to the cockpit and the pre-flight safety announcement was delivered by the pilot simply turning around and speaking to the 5 passengers on-board, without the use of a microphone. During this safety briefing, it was recommended that seatbelts be worn. Emergency exits were not pointed out, life vests were not mentioned and nobody ever bothered to state the smoking was prohibited. I then noticed that the props, which should have been used to deliver the safety demonstration (seatbelt and oxygen mask), were in the seat pocket in front of me. I, momentarily, considered standing up and improvising my own safety presentation, but then reconsidered.
We arrived 30 minutes later at the tiny Grímsey Airport and were greeted by a woman named Gagga. In a speech, which I’m sure she repeats daily, it was indicated that the Arctic Circle monument was about a minute walk to our right and the town was to the left.
We made our way to the right, to cross into the Arctic Circle and to take the compulsory photographs. Once the pictures were snapped, it started raining quite hard. We decided to walk into ‘town’ and see if we could find a place to escape the elements. We noticed a car coming towards us that seemed to be slowing down. It eventually stopped right in front of us. Gagga rolled down her window and asked us if we’d like a ride. She offered to show us the town church (which is the smallest, cutest thing ever and is used about three times a year). She then dropped us off at the local grocery market. She instructed us to be back around 5:00pm for our return flight, but not to worry if we were late or got lost because she’d come find us. We bought a candy bar in the shop and then started walking in the direction of the airport.
Once back at the airport, Gagga handed us certificates authenticating that we had reached the Arctic Circle. These had been hand-written, by Gagga, in calligraphy, and they doubled as our boarding passes.
Gagga – greeter, chauffeur, tour guide, calligrapher and airport security - was the only person whom we came in contact with in our short time on the island. It’s said that Grímsey has a community of about sixty inhabitants, but I’m not convinced.